Friday, January 20, 2012

Christianity And . . .: The Subtle Formula of Idolatry

The best book I read last year was without a doubt Tullian Tchividjian's wonderful book "Jesus + Nothing = Everything." In one very helpful section, quoted at left below, Tchividjian reminds us of CS Lewis' book Screwtape Letters where Lewis, through the mouth of Screwtape, shows us how subtle idolatry can be even for the Christian.  Please read the following in full.

So if we aren’t naturally prone to look to the finished work of Jesus for us as it’s presented in the gospel for the ‘everything’ – where are we looking?

Typically, it’s not that Christians seek to blatantly replace the gospel. What we try to do is simply add to it. . . .

Maybe you recall how this ‘addition’ concept is brought out in C. S. Lewis’s famous work The Screwtape Letters.  As the high-ranking demon Screwtape trains his protege Wormwood in satanic strategies against Christians, he discusses how (in Screwtape’s words) ‘to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And.”’ Screwtape gives a few examples (reflecting some fads from Lewis’s time . . .): ‘Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing,’ and even ‘Christianity and Vegetarianism.’ These were all various manifestations of the urgent, Devil-fostered temptation believers face to add something else to our faith in Jesus and the gospel – all b/c of those deficiencies we sense in our own experience.

Today, Screwtape’s list would doubtless look different.  The currently tempting formulas might include ‘Christian and coolness,’ ‘Christianity and self-affirmation,’ ‘Christianity and self-improvement,’ ‘Christianity and personal progress,’ or ‘Christianity and spiritual formation.’ There’s a host of causes that might crop up: ‘Christianity and environmentalism,’ ‘Christianity and home schooling,’ ‘Christianity and social justice,’ ‘Christianity and diversity and tolerance,’ not to mention abundant ‘Christianity and political action’ variations –liberal conservative, libertarian, hope-and-change, take-back-America, whatever.

Besides those, there are plenty of extras that have timeless appeal for any and all generations: ‘Christianity and popularity,’ ‘Christianity and success,’ ‘Christianity and power,’ ‘Christianity and social status,’ ‘Christianity and reform,’ even ‘Christianity and tradition.’

The list could go on and on.  It will include whatever we’re clinging to, whatever we won’t let go of b/c we’re using it to fill the void only God can fill.

Screwtape is telling the demon Wormwood that if he wants to distract Christians, if he wants to debilitate them, if he wants to keep them off course, powerless, and ineffective, simply make sure they never come to a place of believing that ‘mere Christianity’ is enough.  Make them feel god about affixing something further to the faith. It could be the latest fad; though perhaps far more likely it’s a more personal fixation or obsession that grips us b/c of our endless, aching search to fill our inner hollowness.

Christianity an . . . For many of us, it may be Jesus and our achievements, Jesus and our strengths, Jesus and our reputation, Jesus and our relationships, Jesus and our family’s prosperity, Jesus and our ambitions and goals and dreams, Jesus and our personal preferences and tastes and style, Jesus and our spiritual growth, Jesus and our hobbies and recreational pursuits and entertainment habits – and, especially, Jesus and our personal set of life rules.

Whatever it is our heart is drawn to – a cultural trend, a cause, a diversion, a personal ‘passion,’ a relationship, a pursuit, a venture, a comfortable routine – and however subtly it pulls us in, the cold, hard truth is that almost immediately it becomes an idol, and our heart grabs hold.  As Martin Luther once said, ‘Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God’ – your functional savior.   -38-40

From "Jesus + Nothing = Everything" by Tullian Tchividjian

For more:
Reviews - "Jesus + Nothing = Everything" by Tullian Tchividjian
Reviews - Top 11 Reads of 2011  

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